Title: Interlude Five -- Toward Freedom

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.

Rating: PG-13 for adult themes, including magic and random death.

Pairings: None.

Summary: Ethan takes a moment out to breathe and reconnect.

Spoilers: Takes place after B:tVS Season 6, which in my AU conforms to canon through 6.17, "Normal Again". More specific spoilers for the Ethan episodes, including 2.8 "Halloween" and 4.12 "A New Man".

Series: This is the fifth Interlude and eighth total entry in the "Lesser Men" series. Follows events in "From the Shadows" and "They Also Serve", although there are no specific spoilers for the latter.

Feedback: Yes, please! Be honest!

Notes: Yes, I know. This is set after "They Also Serve", and I wrote this before finishing that up. Sorry! The Muse led, and as Ethan has nothing to do with the longer story, I felt it safe to skip ahead and listen to him for a moment before knuckling back down.


"I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos - especially activity that seems to have no meaning. It seems to me to be the road toward freedom... "
~Jim Morrison

Ethan lowered himself to the ground, crossing his legs carefully as he sat. The ground was not precisely even, despite the probable attempts of the farmer who owned it to make it so, and bent stalks of wheat were not the most comfortable sort of cushion. Nevertheless, there was no where else he'd rather be at this moment.

He paused a moment, blinking up at the wide expanse of rapidly darkening sky, tinted salmon-pink in the west and peppered with wakening stars in the east. Really, the climate here was a little too chilly at night for this sort of venture, even in late spring, but there was something about this area that called to him. It might have been the crisp purity of the air, or the vastness of the rolling, arid landscape, or the simple fact that nothing about it reminded him of the painful and checkered portions of his past. It certainly was nothing like Nevada, or the places he'd driven through this morning along Interstate 5 on his way up the Willamette Valley.

Ethan had heard that Oregon weather was much like that of England, and in many ways he *had* been reminded of home. The skies had been overcast, vaguely misty with a bit of early fog rolling up from the river; the temperatures hovered damply in the range that demanded long sleeves and warm socks even in May. There had been moss on half of the houses, woodsmoke scenting the air, and green stretches of land that made him sick with deja vu for the home of his youth.

Not here, however. He was beginning to respect the other rumor he'd heard of Oregon weather, namely that the state contained more and disparate climes within its borders than any other in the Union. He certainly hadn't been expecting high desert, and yet here it was, a hundred miles and more to the east of his morning's journey. The scenery here was reminiscent of spaghetti Westerns, all scrub and rock and high, rolling hills; one almost expected to see lean, rangy men on dappled horses cresting every rise. The Columbia River Gorge, only a dozen or so miles to the north of where Ethan now sat, was one of the most magnificent works of nature he'd yet seen, and the reservation lands spreading to the south clung to the bones of the Earth with an aura of age and power that resonated in his spirit.

In short, the place was ... beautiful. It soothed something in him that craved wide open spaces and the dwarfing magnificence of terrain that man could touch, but never tame; something bruised and cramped that was just now unfurling after his prolongued sojourn in a ten-by-ten foot hole in the ground. The Initiative had not broken him, but not for lack of trying, and it would be long before he lost all of the scars. Even ordinary city streets felt ... close, now, as if the brick and steel and glass leaned slightly over him wherever he walked.

Ethan took a deep, cleansing breath, and crumbled a few herbs onto the tiny, near-smokeless fire he'd lit in a small cleared space in the field. The sharp, pungent scent reached his nostrils as they burned, and he closed his eyes, silently beseeching his patron deity. He didn't have a statue of Janus with him, but that wasn't strictly necessary; it would have been awkward to carry around, at any rate. The attitude, the preparation were the important things.

Carefully, he unsheathed a small silver knife that he'd been carrying in his pocket and made small wounds in his palms. It had been years since he'd worked this spell, at least four since the variation he'd done in Sunnydale on Halloween, changing all the school children in their special costumes into the beings they'd dressed up to imitate. Even that spell, however, had been disturbed by a general direction and intent; tonight, he intended to summon the chaos without *any* focus, to center and anchor himself back into the role he'd played for so long.

"The world that denies thee, thou inhabit," he whispered, and touched his right middle finger to the blood on his left palm. Next, he touched his finger to his right eyelid, smearing the blood over it.

"The peace that ignores thee ..." Ethan paused again, this time taking blood from his right palm and smearing it over his left eyelid.

"...thou corrupt." Last but not least, he dabbed the blood from his left hand with his right middle finger again and smeared a cross onto his forehead.

"Chaos. I remain, as ever, thy faithful, degenerate son."

The next part of the spell was in Latin. "Janus, evoco vestram animam. Exaudi meam causam. Carpe noctem pro consilio vestro. Veni, appare et nobis monstra quod est infinita potestas." It was an invitation to Janus to seize the night, to show its infinite power. Normally, he'd continue with specifics, but tonight Ethan stopped the invocation there, spreading his arms wide. Sparks flared behind his eyes, accompanied by a sensation of gathering energy, then it all flowed out through his fingertips into the world around him ...

[[[ ... in a little house on a narrow street in the hamlet just up the road, an exhausted woman in her mid-twenties picks up a stack of mail, accumulated over several days of apathy and long shifts at the gas station. A bill here, an overdue notice there, a brochure for the local community college that sours her stomach, a dream still out of reach. And then, suddenly, there is a LITTLE WHITE ENVELOPE she'd never noticed before. There is no stamp and no return address; her name is written on it in an elegant flowing script. Inside is just one item, a check for thirty thousand dollars, endorsed with an unfamiliar name, made out to her ... ]]]

[[[ ... out on I-84, a few dozen miles to the west, a middle-aged man is driving home. He's drinking coffee to sober up, slightly worried that his wife will ask where he's been; but surely, it wasn't his fault that his designated driver never showed at the office party. So far he hasn't seen any cops, so he's speeding slightly, trying to beat the clock. He's brought the travel cup to his mouth again, taking one hand off the wheel, when without warning his tires hit a SLICK PATCH on the road. The car skids towards the river, then plows through the railing, and three children are left without a father ... ]]]

[[[ ... Somewhere in Idaho, a young, heavily pregnant mother has collapsed. She's been ill for months with this baby, making it difficult to care for her toddler. The doctors have warned her often about something called a thrombophilic state that can cause blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes, but with her husband gone and money reserves low, she's been unable to follow all their guidelines. She's regretting it now, bent over in a chair with pain radiating in her chest and sapping all the strength from her muscles ... but suddenly something shifts, the CLOT DISSOLVES, and the pain begins to ease. She can breathe again. With a shaking hand, she reaches for the phone on the endtable and begins to dial 911 ... ]]]

[[[ ... On a college campus in the Midwest, a prominent senator's son is on the field with the school's football team. He's the quarterback, of course, and has brought his share of victories to the local sports pages. Tonight is shaping up to be another great win; the opponent's defense is having trouble corralling their men and stopping the ball, so he thinks he'll try a feint and run the ball on his own. He's several yards past first down and still going when one of the defensive backs finally stops him, diving low to grasp at his thighs. But something goes wrong; during the collison his body TURNS SLIGHTLY and the quarterback hits the ground all wrong, accompanied by the sounds of snapping bone in his neck ... ]]]

[[[ ... somewhere in Nevada, a drugs dispenser suddenly JAMS UP, and thirty magically-gifted prisoners fail to receive their nightly doses of suppressant and sleeping aids in their evening meal ... ]]]

[[[ ... and in Los Angeles, a dark-haired woman pauses in mid-stake, looking up from the ashes of her victim to frown up at the sky. She'd felt something just now, some strange connection, but she can't sense anyone around her. Another vampire attacks, and she shakes the feeling off, turning back to fight it ... ]]]

The flashes began to fade and blur together, and Ethan wakened slowly from his trance to find his heart pounding with excitement and the night several hours advanced. Chaos was always like this for him, sweet and rich and heavy, a surplus of life so thick that it spilt over into decay like the swamps of Louisiana. The fading power still sang in his veins, energizing his nerves somewhere between pleasure and pain, and he basked in the sensation for a few moments longer.

Gradually, he became aware of the pain in his joints from holding his seated position for so long, and a certain other specific discomfort. There was a reason, after all, that he usually didn't perform spells of this type alone. He stood carefully, kicking dirt over the last embers of his tiny fire, then picked his way back through the wheatfield to Highway 11 and his rental car. It was only a few miles to the motel he'd picked for the night; he could wait to discharge the lingering energy in his body until he reached it.

Later, in the wee hours of the morning, Ethan lay awake in the cheap double bed, staring up at the ceiling the way he'd earlier gazed at the stars. His pulse had finally quieted into its normal rhythm, leaving behind a pleasant lassitude and a renewed feeling of connection with life.

He wondered idly what Rupert's children would think, if they knew what he'd wrought tonight. Many of them still had a rather dichromatic view of good and evil, although in light of recent events their perspectives might have shifted a bit. Dark and light were such simple classifications, and his destiny did not lay in either direction.

The inhabitants of the tribal lands nearby would probably understand him better than the children ever could. He'd encountered Native American cultures before, and knew well the legends of the Trickster, Coyote. Perhaps he could try that comparison on Jonathan when his travels lead him back to Los Angeles; it couldn't hurt.

Ethan took one last deep breath, enjoying the peace permeating his body, and slipped into a healing sleep.